[insert catchy, eye-grabbing story headline above] Alright, folks. Yesterday I rolled out some questions that need to be answered pertaining to the 49ers, questions that I'd like to hope will be answered by the middle of preseason. Some of them seem to be clear already, others... not so much.
I think we can all agree that this team will be improved this year. I think a majority of us believe the NFC West title is in our hands, as well. Just within reach, it's our's to reach out and grab it. We now have a core: a few tried-and-true veterans with a couple battle-ready rookies, set to go out there, and... yeah, I'm going to say it... hit some people in the mouth. But there are questions still, some are large question marks, obnoxiously spammed at the end of a sentence (CAPS lock is cruise control for cool, after all), some are small, unimposing, an after-thought. Let's explore some of them after the jump.
Is there any kind of "open competition" for the quarterback position? | Calling It: No | The team has stated that Alex Smith is their guy, and has shied away from claiming that Carr is actually competing to win the starting job. Or maybe they have said it. They've been very unclear, but the fact is that even if Carr outperforms Alex in training camp, I think Smith get's 'his chance' regardless. Continuity is the point being stressed here.
Will Jimmy Raye's offense truly be balanced? | Calling It: Yes | It's a rare occasion of me actually buying into coach-speak. Several things factor into me calling it this way. The main factors are the fact that last season, they preached their gameplan to the media for a few months, and teams knew what was going down. Now, they're kind of on the fence about saying they'll be a power-running team, but every move so far suggests they will be. However, with the continuity on offense and the fact that Alex Smith couldn't even audible last season.. I think there is legitimate confidence in the guy. Michael Lombardi's comments be damned.
Ricky Jean-Francois--Nose Tackle? | Calling It: N/A | I'd love to say yes right now, especially since I like Ricky Jean so much. I think I started liking him when he denied my brother's request and blocked him from Twitter, that was rad. Real talk though, Jean-Francois is a guy who has a lot of potential, but is undersized when compared to an already undersized nose tackle. He can look plenty good in OTAs, but when the pads go on, I'd like to see how well he does.
Will Ted Ginn. Jr handle punt returning duties? | Calling It: Not Likely | When Ginn was signed, it was immediately assumed that he would return kickoffs and punt returns. I do like the fact that several of us were able to identify that he shouldn't be fully trusted as a punt returner, while the rest of us just seemed so giddy and high on the prospect of no more Brandon Jones or Arnaz Battle back there, that anybody was good at this point. But then the draft happened, and the 49ers came out of it with Kyle Williams and LeRoy Vann (UDFA). Williams has undoubtedly looked the best fielding punts, and if Vann is on the roster, he will almost assuredly handle them. (You'd think with someone like Ginn who's been shying away from contact lately that the no-contact drills would give him time to shine) So it's much more likely that Ginn handles kickoff returns, there will likely be someone better for the job on the roster.
Will LeRoy Vann make the active roster? | Calling It: N/A | Vann is the "flavor of the month" here at Niners Nation, drawing a following much like Thomas Clayton and Brit Miller. I'll admit, his chances weren't looking good until Singletary stated that 3-to-4 spots would likely be open for special teamers, not counting kickers. It doesn't hurt that Vann also has exceeded expectations as a cornerback in OTAs. Has a decent chance, in my mind.
Speaking of Brit Miller, I noticed you've only mentioned him about six times today, what gives? Will he make the roster? | Calling It: N/A | I just can't call it, but Singletary has cited Miller as being one of the three top performers on special teams during OTAs so far, and has been noted in the past as someone who gives it his all out there. Miller has a better chance than Vann, and could be one of the last five players on, though it may hinge on how many safeties are kept, and whether or not there will be a third tight end.
Is Brandon Jones as good as gone? | Calling It: N/A | I think he's close to getting a "yes" here. Jones hasn't been able to show anything, be it from lack of being able to, or lack of a chance with injuries and the like, but it just seems like Jones and his contract are a burden to the team as this current time.
Seeing as how it seems to be mancrush hour, what about Dominique Zeigler? | Calling It: Not Likely | That hurts, it really does. Zeigler is probably having his best camp as a 49er and is well-liked by the coaching staff and the players in the locker room, but the team just doesn't have a huge need for receiving threats anymore. Zeigler's biggest contribution to the team would be a backup and a special teams player, and he doesn't have the top end speed to be a gunner--though when he was active in game situations he did manage to break away on some coverage units and make some good tackles. It will just be hard to justify giving him a spot over Jason Hill at this point, if the team even goes with five receivers.
Is Taylor Mays in serious competition with Michael Lewis for the starting job at strong safety? | Calling It: Yes | Mays is getting work with the third team of safeties and one might think that the possibility of him starting is far off. I don't think so. He's learning, and seems to be learning fast. The real story we be told in the preseason.
Who is the backup running back: Glen Coffee of Anthony Dixon? | Calling It: N/A | Dixon seems to be the fan favorite at this point, but it does seem like Coffee got the short end of things last season. Right now there is no clear indication of who will win this job. Something that needs to be answered.
Tomorrow I'll have the last of these posts, looking at some of the more general questions pertaining to the 49ers, relating to their draft, philosophy and things of that nature.